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A Personal Word

From the book BEDOUIN HERITAGE by Matthias Oster:

We will end this book, like we had begun on the first pages, with a text by one of the last eye-witnesses of Bedouin life, Gertrude Bell:

God is merciful and we have done with the Nefud. The day after the rain - oh but the wet sand smelt good and there was a twittering of small birds to gladden the heart! - We came in the afternoon to some tents of the Shammar and pitching our camp not far off we were visited by the old sheikh, Mhailam, who brought us a goat and some butter. Him we induced to come with us as rafiq. He is old and lean, gray haired and toothless, and ragged beyond belief, he has not even an ´agal to bind the kerchief and we have given him a piece of rope. But he is an excellent rafiq - I have not had a better. He knows the country and he is anxious to serve us well. And the next day we rode over sand to the northern point of Jebel Mismah´. Then Mhailam importuned me to camp saying there was no pasturage in the jellad, the flat plain below; and Muhammad al-Ma´rawi backed him for he feared that we might fall with Hetaim raiders if we left the Nefud. But I held firm. Raiders and hunger were as nothing to the possibility of a hard straight road. For you understand that traveling in the Nefud is like traveling in the Labyrinth. You are forever skirting round a deep horseshoe pit of sand, perhaps half a mile wide, and climbing up the opposite slope, and skirting round the next horseshoe. If we made a mile an hour as the crow flies we did well. Even after I had delivered the ultimatum, my two old parties were constantly heading off to the Nefud and I had to keep a watchful eye on them and herd them back every half hour. It was bitter cold; the temperature had fallen to 27 ° (F) in the night and there was a tempestuous north wind. And so we came to the last sand crest and I looked down between the black rocks of Misma´and saw Nejd. It was a landscape terrifying in its desolation. Misma´drops to the east in precipices of sandstone, weathered to a rusty black, at its feet are gathered endless companies of sandstone pinnacles, black too, shouldering one over the other. They took like the skeleton of a vast city planted on a sandstone and sand-strewn floor. And beyond and beyond more pallid lifeless plain and more crags of sandstone mountains rising abruptly out of it. Over it all the bitter wind whipped the cloud shadows. “Subhan Allah!” said one of my Damascenes, “we have come to Jehannum.” Down into it we went and camped on the skirts of the Nefud with a sufficiently of pasturage. And today the sun shone and the world smiled and we marched off gaily and found the floor of Hell to be a pleasant place after all. For the rain has filled all the sandstone hollows with clear water, and the pasturage is abundant, and the going, over the flat rocky floor, is all heart could desire. In the afternoon we passed between the rocks of Jebel Habran, marching over a sandy floor with black pinnacled precipices on either hand, and camped on the east, in a bay of rock with khabras of rain water below and pasturage all round us in the sand. We have for neighbours about a mile away a small ferij of Shammar tents, and lest there should be anyone evil minded as to dream of stealing a camel from us, Mhailam has just now stepped out into the night and shouted: “Ho! Anyone who watches! Come in to supper! I am Mhailam, Mhailam ibn Hamad! Let anyone who is hungry come and eat!” And having thus invited the universe to our bowl, we sleep, I trust, in peace."                                                                                                                                             Gertrude Bell 20 February 1914

The above text about the last days of Gertrude Bell´s journey to the high lands of Nejd seems to me like a reflection from Biblical times, from a world distant and past. When I read those lines for the first time, I was touched and instantly felt that they would make a perfect end for this book. They read like a wonderful story from Thousand and One Nights. From an unreal world, full of simplicity and truth. Full of yearning. This world we have visited together on the pages of this book. The world of the Bedouin of Arabia. The badu society unfolded before our inner eyes like a book not written with letters, but with the life of a nomadic people, relying on its animals and on each other for survival. We discovered a fascinating cosmos that was shaped by the desert and its animals. Of the latter, the horse has been our rafiq, our companion on our desert travel, into this past world.

The Arabian horse was also a very important rafiq through the last 40 years of my life. And in looking back, I see that my love for it was a gift of God for me. My mother died from cancer when I was 14 years old. The same year, a book by Carl Raswan and the living treasures of Marbach State Stud, that our father visited with us five children, captured my heart. The Arabian horse became one of my most important guiding stars through my personal life. I choose my profession as veterinarian for horses. And I met my wife, Gabriele, on a show for Arabian horses. The more I came to know the descendents of the Bedouin horse in daily life, the more my interest in the badu world grew. And what I could find out, I have tried to share with you in this book.

And by doing so, the best rafiq I ever had, Jesus of Nazareth, became even more dear to me. I gained a new understanding of his life and death. I could solve some questions on some details of his life I had wondered about for a long time. And therefore I would like to complete this book with those thoughts on Jesus, the Messiah, whom I have already introduced on the last pages as the returning rider from heaven on a white Arabian horse. If you like, I will look upon Jesus with Bedouin eyes. You are invited to set out for a last journey and follow my thoughts on my best and dearest rafiq.

Jesus, as he is presented in the indjil, the New Testament, was born into the family of a carpenter and belonged to a hadar society. Only later, when he was a wandering preacher of the kingdom of heaven, he became a sort of nomad. He told one man who wanted to follow him: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8 : 20). In his teachings and parables, Jesus borrowed many pictures from the life of farmers and townspeople. And he, in those days, also said the following interesting sentence: From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force (Matthew 11: 12).

And the turning point came. His last week in Jerusalem began with the “raiding” of his riding animal, a donkey and its filly: …Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them: “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a filly with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them`, and he will send them immediately. This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion, behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a filly, the foal of an ass.” (Matthew 21: 2 - 6). This way, Jesus entered Jerusalem, proclaimed by the crowds to be the “Son of David”, and therefore the Messiah. The “violent” side of him is also expressed in the following verse 12 of Matthew 21: “And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.”

This is a different Jesus than the one before. Foreboding a change reaching even farther. Not only his riding animal will change, from an ass, the riding animal of farmers, to a white horse: the riding animal of kings, and of Bedouins. Of raiders! The cross of Golgatha, the death and resurrection of Jesus, separates the ass and the horse, the hadar and the badu world. (Annotation: Jesus was crucified between two robbers.) Conscious of the different comprehension of Christianity and Islam on the end of the life of Jesus, the author would like to show the concordance of the Biblical representation with the spirit of the past nomadic society of the Near and Middle East. A concordance with the most praised occupation of a Bedouin: raiding and the gaining of booty! Jesus of Nazareth, the “holy son”, was sent from his and our father in heaven for a purpose: Raiding in foreign territory and gaining the most precious booty for God: us. How could Jesus succeed? By hanshal!

A Bedouin disguised himself with sheep-skin and walked on all fours among the herds of the enemy to free a prisoner. Jesus, the word of God, was born as the son of Mary and lived a human life. However, the hanshal of Jesus was only complete when he passed through the last door that any man or woman has to go through in life: death. This gave him access to the realm of death to free the prisoners from there. In this context, we have to note the striking conformity between the Oriental, especially Bedouin hospitality and the time Jesus was dead from Friday evening to Sunday morning. This is exactly the time when “there is peace established between them (the host and his guest, even his worst enemy, annotation by the author) for a time that is counted two nights and the day in the midst, whilst their food is in him” (Doughty). Jesus, who said of himself: “I am the bread of life” (John 6: 35), took upon himself the sin of the world, the bread of death. But being only guest in the realm of death and enemy of his host, he, after the exact time of the ancient law of hospitality, became the “firstborn of the dead” (Revelation 1: 5). And once all who believe in him will follow “their great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13: 20).

This herder will come back to this world, but not as a shepherd: “Behold a white horse” , and the rider on his back: al-masih, Christ, the Messiah (Revelation 19: 11-16). Zechariah 10 : 10 describes the Jewish nation, that will “look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child”. The children of Ismail/Ishmael will look upon him in a different way. They will see him with other eyes: a rider on a war-horse, one of their kind.

And like the war cry of the Anaza Bedouin in past times filled the wide open desert, proclaiming brotherhood with their herds, al-masih, on his white Arabian horse, will utter his nahawa (war cry) to the world:

Ana… - I am… Come and follow me!”


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